Chef de Partie Koh Han Jie from Les Amis Singapore comes in first for cuisine at Young Talents Escoffier 2018
Make a dish for eight persons using every part of two farm chickens. This was the ‘tail-to-nose’ brief given to contestants taking part in the cuisine segment of the Young Talents Escoffier competition held at the Gastro & Formation Wädenswill school in Zurich. Oh, and each dish should include a pomme fondante (fondant potato), using the technique as described in Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire or A Guide to Modern Cookery (1982).
An annual friendly joust in cuisine and service for young chefs below 25, the Young Talents Escoffier competition is held in honour of Auguste Escoffier, father of modern French cuisine. Challengers come from varied backgrounds but all are part of the Disciples Escoffier International organisation, a network of over 30,000 disciples across the world who pledge to uphold Escoffier’s principles of spreading knowledge, respecting culinary traditions, modernising culinary art and supporting charitable causes.
After three nerve-wrecking hours, Koh Han Jie, chef de partie of two-Michelin starred Les Amis Singapore, emerged the cuisine winner among five other competitors from Switzerland, Spain, France, Italy and the Benelux. The 24-year-old was the first Singaporean to win the Asian regionals in Hong Kong last September and is now the first Singaporean to win at the finals. A graduate of the ITE-Institute Paul Bocuse programme, Koh has been with Les Amis for 1.5 years. Prior to that, he gained kitchen experience at restaurants like Marina Bay Sands’ Bread Street Kitchen, the former Sky on 57, and three-Michelin starred Maison Pic in Valence.
Wine & Dine (WD): Describe competition day on Saturday, 3 March 2018. What was it like and what dish did you make? Do you think anything gave you an edge?
Koh (KHJ): It was a whole new environment to work in and my first time using an induction stove. I had to adapt quickly and focus on my game. It was important to me to try my best to use every part of the chicken to minimise wastage.
First, I did a ballotine of chicken with a mousseline of tarragon and chives wrapped in leg meat with a thin veil of Parma ham. Then I did a roasted chicken with a light soufflé of mushroom and walnuts. For the three garnishes, I did an Escoffier-style turned potato fondante with a delicate parmesan tuile, a leek cromesquis coated in parsley breadcrumbs and a variation of celeriac in different textures that included roasted celeriac with thyme, pickled and filled with a light purée.
I was allowed to bring along two ingredients of my choice—I went with Parma ham and breadcrumbs. I chose Parma ham as it would give the chicken extra flavour yet not overpower the natural taste of the meat. I used the breadcrumbs to coat the leek as it would give the dish added textures. I think being well-organised gave me an edge. I followed the schedule that I had prepared down to the minute, and I stayed focused.
WD: What was your training schedule like and how did your mentors prepare you?
KHJ: The moment the rulebook was released, I created a training calendar for myself. I trained three times a week from 11pm onwards, after dinner service at Les Amis Restaurant ended. Sometimes I would train till 3am, go home get some rest and start the work day a few hours later. In the beginning, every week, I would do a full run through with Sebastien Lepinoy, executive chef of Les Amis, and my coach Laurent Brouard, executive chef of Bistro Du Vin. They would taste my dish and share their thoughts with me. They provided constructive feedback on how to improve my dish —such as by balancing the flavours or improving the overall presentation. Subsequently, it was up to me to put in the hours and ensure that I was prepared for the competition.
WD: What kept you motivated throughout the process?
KHJ: It was emotionally and physically draining as I had to work in the day and train at night. There were days where I stayed back till 4am training in the kitchen. On occasion, I felt like giving up, but the thought of winning the trophy kept me going. I am also very thankful for the support of my family, friends, colleagues, the team at Escoffier Singapore and last but not least the Les Amis Group for being so supportive and encouraging. My mom would always give me a call in the wee hours of the morning to give me a much-needed dose of encouragement.
WD: What are one or two skills that you learnt most from this process?
KHJ: Time management and organisation. I was training for both this competition and the upcoming Food & Hotel Asia 2018 National Team Challenge in April. I had to manage my time so as to balance work, training, rest and even some occasional R&R.
WD: How has this competition deepened your interest in French cuisine?
KHJ: Preparing for this competition gave me the freedom to unleash my creativity and combine various techniques and cooking methods when preparing my dish. It has definitely continued to fuel my interest in French cuisine and traditional French cooking techniques. I wish to dive even deeper into truly understanding French cuisine and the techniques involved.
WD: Where do you go from here?
KHJ: Next thing on my mind is the Food & Hotel Asia 2018 National Team Challenge competition. I am currently undergoing training with the team, and I hope to give my best for the team and my country.
WD: On your days off, do you experiment with different French dishes?
KHJ: No, I try to maintain a work-life balance. So I spend my days off with my family as they are very important to me. But I do read up some cookbooks so as to gain more knowledge about cooking.
Read more about the Disciples Escoffier International – Singapore Delegation here. The next Singapore selection for Young Talents Escoffier 2019 will be held in May 2018. Those interested to know more can email Jessica Prevost at firstname.lastname@example.org.